Having the ability to fly anywhere on the planet that we choose and arrive at our destination in a matter of hours is an incredible feat that humans have mastered. Easily one of the greatest inventions of all time, the once-thought crazy idea of flying has opened a new world of discovery for people all over the world. But how do these powerful machines work?
What Makes a Plane Fly?
While many think that planes fly simply because they have engines, that actually isn’t the reason sole planes take flight. The engine allows the plane to move forward at a high speed, but it must work with the wings to lift the plane upward. The engine encourages air flow to move quickly over the wings, throwing the air down towards the ground. This, in turn, generates an upward force, or lift, that surpasses the plane’s weight and keeps it in the sky. The wings are able to create lift by changing direction and the pressure of the air.
How Do the Wings Work?
The key to flight is through the wings—but how? Most airplane wings have what is called an airfoil: a curved upper surface and a flat lower surface that creates a cross-sectional shape. A curved airfoil wing will generate lift by deflecting air above and below the wing, while simultaneously altering the air pressure.
As the plane flies forward, the curved part of the wing will lower the air pressure directly above it, moving the plane upward. This happens because the curve of the wing pulls the air around it back down, rather than it moving in a straight line. The air below the wing will dramatically increase in pressure, accelerating the air downward and moving the wing and plane upward.
How Do Planes Steer?
A car and a plan both have a steering wheel, but that’s the only thing both machines have in common. Planes move up and down, are steered side-to-side and stopped using a series of flaps called control surfaces. To steer a plane, you must make the air flow in a different way past the wings on each side. To do this, the plane needs to “lean” into the curve. This involves banking, meaning the plane tilts to one side and one of the wings dips lower than the other. Most of the lift is still moving upward, but some if it will tilt to one side with the wind, allowing the plane to steer in a circle.
Some Other Important Parts
The engine, wings, steering wheel, and the accompanying controls are incredibly important components of a plane, yet they require some other key features. Fuel tanks are a necessity to safely pack fuel inside the plane’s wings. The wheels and tires that are needed for takeoff and landing are retracted into the undercarriage by hydraulic rams when they’re in the sky to reduce air resistance. Additionally, the radio and radar are crucial for navigation and pressurized air cabins allow passengers to breathe properly as air pressure falls.
Many aircraft fly over the U.S., but only a select few partake in the top shows. These airshows can be categorized by history, culture, and specialty.
Aviation has a wonderfully storied past, and as a result, attendees at air shows expect a bit of history. Enthusiasts prepare throughout the year to display their collections. The best historically themed shows include Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino, California; National Warplane Museum Airshow in Geneseo, New York; and the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum WWII Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania.
There was a time when pilots were looked upon as celebrities, and this celebration of aviators remains alive and well in many parts of the country. Among the best of culture-driven events in America are Wings Over Houston Airshow in Houston, Texas; Great Tennessee Airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee; and Cleveland National Air Show in Cleveland, Ohio.
The state of Florida hosts numerous airshows, as the weather allows spectators and pilots to enjoy themselves throughout the year. Two of the most highly regarded annual airshows are Fort Lauderdale Air Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In & Expo in Lakeland, Florida.
Some shows only come together when pilots’ schedules allow for it. Daytona Beach, Florida hosts one of these: It is not an annual spectator event, but instead the gathering of aviation enthusiasts. Expect such events to fly every other year or so.
There are airshows and then there are air races, and few people know about these races even though they are global events. Reno, Nevada hosts what is regarded as the very best in air racing—the National Championship Air Races. The race is a show unto itself, but the weekend long event also hosts demonstration teams.
Most airshows occur over a weekend. However, one known throughout the aviation community is a fly-in, week-long gathering. Often referred to as just “Oshkosh”, it popularized the town for which it is named. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is by far the most widely recognized airshow of all time. It’s actually less like a show and more like a vacation! Spectators are not there for the day. They come to spend time in the town of Oshkosh for this one week out of each year.